Fast Nonprofit Decisions

The “To Do” list never ends.
The Inbox is never empty.
There’s ALWAYS more to do than you can get done.
These are facts of life in our fast-paced world.
And even though there doesn’t seem to be a way to change it, what we CAN change is how we manage it.
Lately, I’ve noticed lots of people suffering with bulging Inboxes and ridiculously long lists of stuff to do. What I also notice is that they’re very slow to make decisions.
One of my coaches says “Indecision is a form of self abuse.”
I think she might be right.
When you can’t decide, you put the decision off and leave yourself in a state of limbo, not committing to one thing or another.
For example, an email shows up in your inbox announcing an upcoming webinar. It looks sort of interesting, but you’re not sure you want to carve out the time to attend, not to mention the $47 to pay for it. So you leave it, thinking you’ll decide later.
You have now created unfinished business and it may leave you feeling a little haunted. When you add up all the hanging decisions waiting for you plus projects that never quite get completed, it’s no wonder that you feel like a hamster on a wheel, working and working but not feeling like you accomplished anything.
What you need is to learn to make fast nonprofit decisions.
Fast Decisions
There’s a fair amount of stuff in your life that needs some thought put into it. There’s another large amount that could (and should) be quickly decided so you can move on.
You may have problems making fast decisions if you’re a

  • Procrastinator. You put off making a decision because you’re afraid you might choose wrong.
  • Perfectionist. You need everything to be JUST RIGHT and if you aren’t sure, you decide you’ll wait until you can be sure.
  • Over-analyzer. You don’t think you have enough information to make the right decision, so you’ll wait until you have time to do a bit more research.
  • Crowd Follower. You like to see what everyone else is doing before you decide what you want to do.

Any of this sound familiar? Thought so.
So, how does this show up for you?
Maybe you have 100 unanswered emails in your inbox, because you’re so busy during the day you decide you’ll wait til tomorrow to get to them, except tomorrow never comes. Meanwhile, requests for you to speak at the Rotary Club and announcements about grant opportunities are slipping through your fingers.
Maybe you have the chance to be the recipient of the proceeds from a charity event being hosted by a local civic club, but you’re not sure it’ll be worth much, so you decide to wait until you can figure out the right thing to do. You’re tired of doing nickel and dime fundraising, but you don’t yet have criteria to decide when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” So the decision doesn’t get made and it’s one more thing hanging over your head.
How do you make Fast Decisions?

First, you have to define for yourself which things can be decided quickly and which need more thought.
For me, I leave my quality thinking time to decisions that have a big impact on my world. These are typically strategic in nature, require a large investment of money or time, or have the potential to either move me forward quickly or harm me in a big way.
Decisions about whether to attend the local AFP meeting or participate in a webinar or read an article are easy. I’ll make those quickly. Scheduling an appointment for a client or prospect is another easy one.  There’s no benefit to overthinking any of these.
Fast decision techniques
If this is new to you, you may benefit from a specific method. Here are a few you can try to make fast decisions:

1. The 2-minute rule. If you can make a decision in 2 minutes or less, just do it, be finished with it, and move on. Most of the stuff in your inbox can be handled quickly, as can a good bit of paperwork that flows your way. Don’t let it linger – it’ll eat up your energy. There’s nothing magic about 2 minutes – it could easily be 4 or 5. The point is to give yourself a deadline to get things decided so you can move on. This one is great for Perfectionists.
2. Draw from a hat. If all choices seem equal, write each one down on a piece of paper and throw them in a hat. Then draw one out and go with it. It’ll help you get moving quicker. For example, if you’re trying to choose a caterer for your next event, and you have 3 candidates that all have great references and similar prices, try throwing their names in a hat so you can just pick one. This one is great for Over-Analyzers.
3. Pair work with fun. Give yourself a reward for actually making a decision or a bunch of decisions. Sometimes when we know that there’s fun right around the corner, we can get stuff done. Don’t believe me? How much did you get done the day before you went on your last vacation? I practice this one myself. Sometimes, I work on cleaning out my Inbox for the day and as soon as I’m done, I cruise Facebook for 10 minutes. This one is great for Procrastinators.
4. Best Self. Sometimes we get really scared about making decisions because we’re afraid we’ll choose wrong.  The next time that happens, tune in to your Best Self and decide from there. Your Best Self is the smartest, wisest version of you. It’s the one that always knows what’s right for you and never steers you wrong. Everyone has a Best Self although few people give it a chance to surface regularly. Next time you can’t decide, let your Best Self make the decision. It might be easiest to ask yourself “What would my Best Self say?” This one is great for Perfectionists and Crowd Followers.
“But what if I don’t have enough information?”
Well, here’s the thing: you probably won’t. Ever.
You need to be able to trust yourself to make a decision with the information you have. Gathering more info is a stalling technique for folks who are afraid of choosing the wrong option. You can put things off for months or years if you use this excuse, and to what end? Does it help you fulfill your organization’s mission if you stall or get stuck, unable to decide?
Benefits of Fast Decisions
When you learn to make fast decisions, you’ll find that you can get more done in the day. You’ll spend less time agonizing over unimportant items which will save you time that you can spend on more important things and actually lower your stress in the process.
You’ll save your bandwidth for things that matter, like loving on your donors and writing grant proposals.
Tips for making Fast Decisions
1. Trust your gut. Your intuition is usually right. Listen to it.
2. Eliminate options. Sometimes you have too many choices and it’s overwhelming. Know this: a confused mind shuts down. If you have 4 options, try to eliminate the ones that clearly aren’t a good fit. For example, if you’re trying to decide on a donor-tracking software and there’s one that’s waaaaaay out of your budget, drop it out of the running. If there’s another one that doesn’t have very good reviews, drop that one, too.  Eliminating options will help you laser in on the right choice.
3. Think of time as money. If you had to pay yourself your hourly rate for the time that it takes you to make the decision, would your organization get its money’s worth?
4. Practice makes it easier. The more you make fast decisions, the easier it gets and the better you’ll get at it. 

Try one of these techniques and see what happens when you start making fast decisions. You may feel nervous at first, but don’t worry. Anytime you try something new, it can be uncomfortable. Just go with it and see what happens.

Going to conferences is fun.
You get away from the chaos of the office for a while. You get to meet cool new people. You hear fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. Maybe you even get some free goodies in the exhibit hall.
Then the conference ends and you head home. And as you travel, you start to dread the piles of emails, voicemail and paperwork that you know is waiting for you.
When you get back, you immediately dive in, trying to recover from being gone. It’s like hacking through a jungle trying to get through everything.

Sometimes it just seems like it’s not worth leaving because you get too far behind.
Meanwhile, all your notes and precious new ideas go to waste because you just can’t seem to find time to implement them.
Sound familiar?
It happens to all of us from time to time. For some of us, it happens nearly every time.
So what can you do?
Try these 7 ideas for getting the most out of your nonprofit conference experience and training investment.

1. Set goals. What do you want to walk away from the training with? Are you looking to learn something specific? Or just looking for new ideas? Do you need affirmation that you’re on the right path? It’s a good idea to be as clear and specific as possible about what you want to have learned once the training event is over.


2. Support your learning style. Do you prefer taking notes with pen and paper? Then invest in a dollar store journal so you can keep all your notes from the conference in one place. Like taking notes on a laptop? Create a file for your notes where you can easily find them later. If the conference offers recordings of the sessions, you might consider getting those so you can review them again later (you’ll tend to forget things over time and listening to a session again can help you remember the details).


3. Make a list of 3 key nuggets. For every breakout session you attended, make a list of 3 key takeaways. What were your big AHAs from the session? Highlight them in your notes so you can easily find them later.


4. Make an Action Item list.  At the end of the conference, go back through your notes and make a list of Action Items – those things you really want to try out. Once you’ve captured them all, pick the top 3 to start with. Pick ONE and list out the actions that will need to happen. Then put the first action on your calendar. For example, if your Action Item is to start a monthly giving program, the first step might be to research other nonprofits like yours that have monthly giving to see how they do it. Add that to your “to do” list for the coming week.  
5. Reach out with questions. Don’t be afraid to email a speaker for clarification or to ask a question. Many speakers are happy to help you out with a question or two, and if they aren’t, you haven’t lost anything.
6. Connect on social media. Remember all those cool people you met at the training? Connect with them on social media so you can stay in touch. Chances are good that the folks you sat beside are trying to implement the same things you are. You might see them doing something really cool that you can try, too.


7. Share what you learned. Be sure to share your biggest takeaways with your co-workers and Board. It not only helps them learn a little something, but shows that you got a good return on investment for the event. This might also be a good time to thank your Board for sending you to the training. 

The main thing is to DO SOMETHING with what you just learned. The sooner, the better.
Otherwise, it was just a fun time. And fun times don’t fund your life-changing work.

Your first day on the Board is kind of like the first day of school.

Everything is fresh and new, and the future holds so much promise.

You’re excited because you believe in the organization’s mission, and you really want to help, but you’re not exactly sure what that looks like.

Then reality sets in when you realize how much you don’t know.

You’re trying to understand the nonprofit’s programs and lingo. There are tons of acronyms to figure out. The staff wants all the Board to help out with fundraising, and wait, what? Ask for money? They’re kidding, right?

And yet that’s how it feels.

Being a new member of the Board can be overwhelming.  There’s so much to learn.

There’s no Board School to send them to so they can learn their job. For most, it’s on-the-job training, which means toss ‘em in and see if they sink or swim.

As someone who has trained hundreds of Board members how to do their job, and someone who has served on several Boards, I’d like to share a few things that might make it easier for Board newbies.

Here are 10 things that every new Board member needs to know, to help ease the transition into Board service.

1. You have a learning curve ahead. They will firehose information at you during orientation and you’ll forget most of it. It’s okay. Just make the effort to keep learning everything you can about the nonprofit. Make it a point to learn something about the organization each week. At the end of a few months, you’ll feel more confident. At the end of a year, you’ll be an old pro.
2. Bring your talents, skills, and connections to the table. You’re not just another pretty face. The organization needs what you have. Don’t wait for the staff or another Board member to ask you to help, find a place where you can be of the most service and jump in. Offer up what you’re best at. It’s what you’re there for.
3. Be prepared to spend some time on Board work. If you’re expecting to spend an hour a month fulfilling your Board duties, you may not be the best person to serve on this Board. Board members should not only show up for Board meetings, they should also serve on a committee, and help out in other ways as needed. You are now a leader of the organization, and you need to spend some time providing leadership. And besides, the more involved you are, the more you’ll know about the nonprofit and the easier it will be to talk to friends and family about the organization’s mission.
4. Spend time on the front lines (the earlier in your Board term, the better). Getting up close to the nonprofit’s work in action is the best way to immerse yourself and quickly understand what the programs are all about. Plus it will give you your own story to tell and that’s always a good thing. You’ll likely come away with a renewed passion for the importance of the work.
5. Ask questions. It’s perfectly okay for you to ask questions when you don’t understand something. In fact, it’s your responsibility. You’re there to provide leadership. It won’t make you look stupid to ask for clarification on a subject or to hear the back story. It’s also okay to disagree with the rest of the Board. Your opinion matters, so voice it.
6. Give to the organization. You need to make a donation to the nonprofit you sit on the Board of. You’re a leader. People in the community will be looking to see what the Board does before they make their own gift. If the leaders don’t support the organization financially, why should anyone else? Yes, you’re giving your time and talent. You need to give treasure, too. And not from your company, although that would be nice. You need to make a personal financial gift. No getting out of it.

7. Understand how fundraising works. If you’re hesitant about helping with fundraising, don’t worry – There’s more to it than asking for money. If you aren’t comfortable asking, get involved in thanking donors, finding new donors, helping to spread the word about the nonprofit, or bringing other resources to the table. There are ALL kinds of ways you can be helpful without asking someone for money.
8. Make the effort to understand the financial statements. You don’t get a pass if you’re not a numbers person. Too bad. Buck up and learn to read the financial statements. Pay attention to the Finance reports and don’t rubber stamp them. If this ship goes down, you may go down with it because as a member of the Board, you now have some personal responsibility for the nonprofit. Try to learn or understand one thing a month about the financials, and after a year, you’ll be much more knowledgeable and confident.
9. Practice talking to people about the organization. Learn some words and phrases you can use to describe the nonprofit’s work. Ask staff and other Board members what they say when they’re describing the organization. You’re an ambassador in the community – be prepared to highlight the mission and the difference the organization is making.
10. Don’t be a problem child. Nonprofit staff are overworked. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff they’re trying to get done in a day. So do your part – respond to phone calls, emails, and texts. Don’t make the staff chase you down to get an RSVP or the answer to a question. You’re here to help, not cause more problems.
Learning to be a good Board member is like anything else: it won’t happen overnight. Just like learning to ride a bike, it takes some practice and you’ve got to stick with it. Eventually, you’ll learn how to balance and then the fun begins!

Enjoy your Board journey!

July 1st is an important day.
For many, it’s a new fiscal year.  For others, it’s the halfway mark.
Either way, it’s a good time to pause and evaluate where you are.
Sometimes we all get so busy with the doing that we don’t do enough of the thinking.
One of the biggest mistakes I see nonprofit leaders make is that they’re so busy doing fundraising that they don’t take the time to evaluate whether the activities are bringing them the return that they want. In other words, they don’t stop to see if they are doing things that are actually raising the kind of money they want and need to fully fund their budget and change lots of lives.
Now is a REALLY good time to evaluate and see what needs to change in the coming 6 months.
I remember when I was a Development Director at an organization with a July-June fiscal year.  It was a bittersweet time – I’d feel really good about what I just accomplished in the previous year, and suddenly it was July 1, and I was back to zero.
Most of the time, I was okay with that, because I had a plan and I knew what I needed to do in the coming year.
I know not everyone has that confidence.
So, let’s make it simple.
Let me give you 3 things to focus on that will make a HUGE difference in your results this year.
These are really simple, so don’t dismiss them. They’re very powerful. The smart and successful nonprofits will be practicing these 3 ideas this year.
Let’s make this your best year ever. Make it the Year of the Donor.
The days of everything being all about you and your Annual Fund and your budget are over. It’s time to be all about your non-profit donor and her interests. It’s time to understand her and what makes her tick. It’s high time to find out what she cares about and how she wants to be communicated with. No more guessing – it’s time to work from fact.
So, how do you make it the Year of the Donor?
Commit to these 3 practices this year and watch things change.
1. Pay more attention to donor retention than to funding your budget. 

It’s a sad fact: if you’re an average nonprofit, you’re losing more donors than you’re attracting these days. And why are they leaving? It’s pretty simple – they’re bored. They’re disengaged. They believe that they aren’t important to your nonprofit – that their donation doesn’t make a difference.

Donor retention can no longer be ignored. If you want to raise more money, you MUST pay attention to your donors, not just their money. It’s about how they FEEL, and again, if you’re an average nonprofit, your donors don’t feel much of anything from you.
The good news is that it’s easily fixed. Step one is to think like a donor. If you’re the donor, what do you care about? What warms your heart? What turns you off? Get a piece of paper and write down the answers to these questions. Ask your coworkers what they would care about it they were your donor. Spend some time on this and see what you can come up with.
Step 2 is to go directly to the source. Ask some of your donors what they care about. What part of your organization matters most to them. What turns them on? What could they care less about? Again, write it all down. See if their answers match yours. If they don’t match, it doesn’t matter, because their answers are the ones that count.
Step 3 is to change how you talk to them. Know that you know what matters to them, write interesting, meaningful newsletters filled with stories and tidbits that they will want to know. Share heart-warming stories. Give them something to care about.
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll shift your perspective and be well on your way to complete donor-based fundraising.
2. Be consistent in communicating with donors and prospects.
Once you the messaging nailed, be consistent in sharing it.
Have you ever had a friend that the only time you heard from them was when they wanted something? I think we all have. And you’re probably showing up as that creep in your fundraising.
If all you do is show up in the mailbox or inbox with your hand out, congratulations, you’re a Professional Beggar. Trust me, it’s not going to work out the way you want. You can’t ask, ask, ask and build meaningful relationships.
Remember that your donors are valuable resources. They’re your partners in mission. Don’t you need to communicate with your partners regularly? (Hint: yes you do).

Lay out a schedule for newsletters, eblasts, and any other communications you plan to send to your donors. Put it on a calendar. Then stick to the plan. Building those relationships is THE most important thing on your plate. Make it a priority then stick with it.
I talked with a client this week who told me about some donors who had given a $5,000 gift (which was a big gift for his young nonprofit). That was 18 months ago, and he hasn’t spoken to them since. I doubt he’s sent a regular newsletter or done much of anything to help the donors feel good about their decision to give. What do you think the chances are of getting another gift, especially at that level? Mmm hmmmm. Not so hot. It can be done, but wouldn’t it be easier to just make nice-nice with donors from the get-go? Wouldn’t it be easier to stay in touch with the regularly and avoid the problems that radio silence creates?
Go figure out your communication schedule. Now. I mean it. Write it down and stick to it.
3.       Make your donor the hero and help them feel it.
One of the best shifts you can make is to stop thinking of donors as a checkbook and start seeing them as partners in your work.
When you think of them as a checkbook or ATM card, you don’t have to care about their feelings. And that’s when the problems start. That’s when apathy sets in. That’s when donors start to look around at other nonprofits who might actually care about them. And BAM, you just lost them.
Here’s the truth: Your donors make your nonprofit’s work possible. Unless you’re funding it yourself, you need other peoples’ money to make the magic happen and change lives.
Your donors are the heroes. Even the ones who only give you $5. Treat them accordingly.
How should a hero be treated? With a lot of respect and admiration. They’re a top priority. They get the best of everything and deserve it. With sports heroes, we throw parades in their honor. For military heroes, they get discounts at their favorite restaurants.

Now, think about how you are currently treating your donors. Are you respecting and admiring them? Are they your top priority or do they get a phone call returned when you get around to it (after paperwork and everything else is done). Are you giving them your best? If you’re not too proud of your answers, go change it. You’re not a tree- you can move.
Make sure that everything you send to your donors makes them the hero and helps them feel that way. Review everything (newsletters, thank-you letters, social media, etc.) before it goes out for herotization.
These are pretty dang important shifts you need to make in your fundraising. And it’s time that you make them.
If you choose not to – maybe you’re too busy or maybe you don’t want to get on this ‘donor kick’ – you’ll continue to get the kind of results you’re getting now.
But if you want something different – if you want to raise enough money to fully fund your budget in a way that you can repeat year after year – well, you better buckle up Buttercup and implement what I’ve laid out here.  Pay attention to your donors. Communicate consistently. Make them the hero. And your fundraising will change.
After all, it’s the Year of the Donor.

Freedom: the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.Here in the US, we’re celebrating Independence Day. It’s a holiday that means summertime fun to many: watermelon, cookouts, and fireworks.

It also means freedom – freedom to live how we want to live.

Here are some other definitions of freedom (

  • Being released from something onerous
  • The quality of being frank, open, or outspoken
  • Boldness of conception or execution
  • Unrestricted use

You know, several of those make me think of fundraising.

When we raise money to change lives, we are helping to release folks from something onerous.

Lots of nonprofits draw a line in the sand about a particular issue and speak frankly about it. Think of all the nonprofits that take a stand for the environment, human rights, and animal welfare.

Some nonprofits have big bold plans that they work toward and they are relentless in pursuing them.

The work we do in the nonprofit world matters. We make a difference. I know it’s easy to forget that when you’re up to your elbows in details and administration. But it’s important to stop and reflect on it.

I see way too many good organizations struggling to raise the money they need. Often, they have a mission that matters, but they’re stuck being disorganized, unfocused, and scattered.

Maybe it’s time we declare our freedom from things that hold us back. Maybe we should rebel against work habits that no longer serve us. Maybe we should all STOP doing what no longer works and START doing things that bring us a huge return on our investment of time, energy, and money.

Let’s declare war on mediocrity in fundraising! Let’s mutiny against common, boring practices of ho-hum fundraising so we can create an environment of philanthropy that’s fun for us to work in, fun for donors to participate in, and changes more lives than ever before.

Ready to break free? Here are 10 truths to embrace if you want to join the revolution:

1. Self-centeredness must be replaced by donor-centeredness. Your messaging cannot be all about you – your programs, your budget, you, you, you. Who cares? When it’s all about you and your need to raise your annual fund, you actually repel donors. Make the shift to become donor-centered. When you become donor-centered and you care FIRST about the donor, THEN about their money, everything will change.

2. The relationship is worth more than the money. Once you begin to care about the donor as a person and not record number 1453, you’ll become interested in what matters to them. You’ll stop staring at their checkbook. You’ll actually want to know what they care about and why they support your nonprofit. People will feel it. The language you use in your newsletter and thank-you letters will change, and donors will start to feel more valued and appreciated. And guess what happens when donors feel valued and appreciated?

3. Program goals must be set before fundraising can begin. Don’t try to do fundraising backwards: don’t try to go out and raise as much as you can, then figure out how to spend it. Start by deciding how your programs will change lives, then figure out what that will cost. THAT’S how much money you should raise. If it’s just not possible to raise that amount, adjust your program goals. It’s a whole lot easier to raise money when you can tell people specifically how the money will be used instead of “support our cause.” Donors like to know how they’re helping you make a difference and you can share that when you start with a program goal.

4. Status quo in fundraising restricts growth. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got. Every strategy you use – every event, every appeal, every communication – must be monitored for its effectiveness. You must stay in a state of curiosity about your activities. Discover why your under performing activities are happening and find a way to tweak them to improve them. Find out why your successes are happening so you can repeat them purposefully. Constant learning will keep you not only looking internally, but also looking for best practices in the industry to bring back and apply to your nonprofit.

5. Working without a plan will never fully fund your mission. When you have no written plan for fundraising, you’ll spend your days fighting fires and playing “Whack-A-Mole” with your inbox. You’ll spend a ton of time being very busy, but you’ll never reach your fundraising goals. Without a plan, you’ll always be reacting to what others want you to do and chances are good you’ll always be working at the last minute to get things done.

6. Sole-source funding is not a secure way to fund your budget.  Relying on one source of revenue for your nonprofit is a dangerous situation. If that one grant or event diminishes or goes away, you’ll be dead in the water and forced to cut programs. Create diversified revenue streams that come from multiple sources. That way if you lose one grant or decide to cut an event, you can easily make it up from another source.

7. Power must be balanced between the Board and Executive Director to provide optimal leadership to the nonprofit. A healthy nonprofit has a Board made up of skilled, connected, caring people who are willing to bring their skills and connections to the table. A healthy nonprofit also has a passionate, skilled Executive Director who can effectively administer the work of the organization. When these two work together as partners, anything is possible. When a nonprofit has a strong Board and weak ED, there are problems like micromanaging. When a nonprofit as a weak Board and strong ED, the ED does all the heavy lifting of leadership and feels like the Lone Ranger.  When power swings one way or the other, there’s a lack of trust and usually some kind of drama. It’s best when there’s a balance of power along with mutual respect and healthy communication. It takes work to make it happen, but it IS possible and it’s a beautiful thing once it’s in place.

8. It takes a team to reach big goals with fully funded budgets.  When you’re passionate about the cause and you’ve poured your heart into its success, it can be really tough to turn pieces of the organization over to others. But if you have a BIG vision, you can’t do it alone. You will need a team of people around you to help. Start by creating systems so that no matter who does a job, they’ll get the same result. Whether you’re welcoming new donors or signing up sponsors for your next event, you need a documented, step-by-step process. When you have in writing how a task should be done, it’s easy to find the right staff person or volunteer, and train them. If you don’t systematize, you’ll try to control everything yourself and you’ll wind up burning out.

9. Growth depends on systems. If you plan to grow your nonprofit so you can change more lives, you’ll likely need more hands to help and more money to pay for it. The only way to leverage is with systems. A system is simply a way of doing something so that you get the same result every time. Think of how chaotic Starbucks would be if they didn’t have a system for creating a Mocha Latte. They would never have experienced the explosive growth they have if it weren’t for their systems. Same thing goes for you – you want to grow? You need systems. Yes, it takes time to figure them out and get them in writing, but once you do, you’ll not only free up some of your time, you’ll set your organization up for bigger success.

10. When donors feel good about giving, they’ll usually do it again. Your number one priority in fundraising should be to give donors a GREAT experience with you. Thank them early and often. Stay in touch with them to let them know the impact their gift has had. Help them feel really good about their decision to give, and chances are good they’ll do it again. If you want to create sustainable funding for your nonprofit, this is the key. It’s all about thanking them well, having a regular story-rich newsletter, and adding in additional delights periodically to add a little “wow” to their experience.

So there you have it, my rebel friends. Follow these 10 declarations and you’ll be well on your way to creating the fundraising you’ve always dreamed of.

There are three things you never want to turn your back on:


  • Toddlers checking out your kitchen cabinets
  • Puppies sniffing your shoes
  • Vegetable garden after it’s been rained on several days in a row

I don’t have toddlers or puppies right now, but I do have a huge garden. Last Friday morning, I couldn’t tell the plants from the weeds, and I knew if we didn’t do something, nature would reclaim the land.

So that morning, my hubby and I put on our garden gloves and mud shoes and set off to weed and hoe and all that fun stuff.

Good news: we got it done!

Bad news: it took us two days

More bad news: it was hotter than hell!

Extremely bad news: humidity was about 90%

As we worked and sweated, I realized there are a lot of non-profit fundraising lessons to learn from a garden.

See how many of these apply to you:

1. Have a plan. You don’t go out and just throw seeds on the ground. First, you choose the garden spot, then you till the soil. The better the soil, the better the garden, the better the vegetables. You decide what you want to plant, get the seeds, then put them in the ground. Nothing happens by chance. It’s all very purposeful. Your fundraising should happen the same way with everything planned out. You’ll never raise all the money you need to fully fund your programs if it happens by chance. Wildly successful fundraising follows a plan.

2. Plant at the right time. Not every seed can be planted in any given month. Some crops are cool-weather, which means they do better in the Fall. Spinach, radishes, and peas are good examples of crops that just won’t do well in the heat of the summer. You won’t see growth – instead you’ll see plants that struggle to survive and eventually wither and die. Timing is very important in fundraising. Hold events at the right time of year to get the most people there and raise the most money. Ask for donations at the right time in the cultivation of the relationship. There is absolutely a season for getting to know a donor and a season for inviting them to give.

3. Patience is critical. Every good farmer knows that seeds have a gestation period, and some sprout faster than others. But they all know this: You don’t pick the fruit the day you plant the seeds. And once you plant the seeds, you don’t keep digging them back up to check on them. Put them in the warm earth and wait for nature to do its thing. In fundraising, you shouldn’t ask someone for a gift the day you meet them. Well, I guess you can, but you won’t get much – this is why direct mail acquisition, or sending letters to people who have never given before – don’t do so well. People want to know you, like you, and trust you before they give. Learn about your donors and what they need from you before they’ll make a donation, and don’t rush it.

4. Keep the weeds out. In any garden, there are plants you want and plants you don’t. If you have good soil, weeds will sprout early and often. Stay on top of them, keeping them pulled out, and your vegetable plants will have room to grow and thrive. Think of your donor communications like a garden and keep the weeds out. Guard what your donors receive from your nonprofit. Don’t share things they don’t need to know. Share ONLY what they need to know to feel good about supporting your organization. Make sure they aren’t inundated with Save the Date cards, newsletters, and appeals all in the same week.

5. Don’t worry about crooked rows. It can be tough to plant a straight row. I’ve given up on that. Some plants do better when they’re in a smaller plot than in a long single line which doesn’t give them a chance to pollinate. And really, if your end goal is to get fresh veggies, who cares if the rows are straight? I know, this is tough for Perfectionists, but it’s a waste of time – nature likes chaos. In fundraising, things don’t always go in a straight line, either. Things don’t happen the way you plan or sponsorships require an extra step. It’s good to be able to go with the flow and not get hung up on the wrong thing.

6. Use the right tool. About an hour into weeding the garden, I realized that I wasn’t making much progress even though I’d been working really hard. I was using a spade, which is great for getting an individual weed up, but I needed to cover a lot of ground and do it quick. I switched to a cultivator rake and everything changed. Not only was it easier, but I could cover a lot of ground quickly. In fundraising, using the right tool is also a good idea. Not every fundraising strategy will work for every nonprofit. It’s important to focus on the ones that will help you reach your goals with the least effort and resources. In other words, don’t try to do a golf tournament just because the nonprofit down the street just had a good one. Do what works for YOUR nonprofit.

7. Many hands make light work. This old saying is true! The bigger the project, they more you need help. There’s no way I could tend my big garden by myself, nor could I eat everything it produces by myself. I usually give a lot away and can lots of green beans. I’ve seen lots of nonprofit folks try to plan and execute a big event by themselves, or with just one other person. It makes no sense to me to do that. Involving others is a smart move – they’ll bring fresh energy and ideas to the mix, and sometimes they have connections for new sponsors that you don’t have. When you add new folks to a committee, it also gives you a way to evaluate them as potential new Board members to see if they keep their word and get things done.

8. Pick when the fruit is ripe. I don’t like underripe vegetables – they’re hard and sometimes don’t taste right. And I don’t like them when they’re overripe and mushy either. It’s important to pick when they’re just right. That’s when they’ll taste the best. The same goes for donors. Don’t try to ask for a donation before a donor is ready and don’t cultivate them forever either. Ask when they are ready to be asked.

9. Bugs are inevitable. In my garden, we battle bugs all summer long. I prefer not to use chemical pesticides (don’t get me started!) so we fight them using a variety of natural remedies and removing them by hand (is my life exciting or what?). I’ve come to accept that bugs are just part of gardening. I wouldn’t give up the whole garden just because of a few beetles that are eating my squash. In fundraising, you will deal with challenges like naysayers on your Board, volunteers that fail you, sponsors that back out, donors who lose their job and stop giving for a while, and more. Don’t give up on your fundraising goal just because something happens that seems like it could derail your whole plan. Stay focused on your goal and keep moving forward.

10. Enjoy the bounty! It’s so fun at my house at dinner time. We say “Let’s go to the garden and see what’s for dinner.” There’s nothing better than feasting on fresh veggies that were picked less than an hour before. I love knowing where my food comes from and how it was grown. In fundraising, we don’t do a very good job of celebrating our wins. We have a successful event and raise a bunch of money, and we celebrate for about 30 seconds before we’re on to the next thing. Celebrate when things go well! You’ve worked hard, so enjoy it.

So, there are my 10 fundraising lessons from the garden. I’d love to know which one resonates the most with you.

I help a LOT of small nonprofits figure out how to raise way more money so they can change more lives.

And it’s really not that hard. It’s about getting clarity on your goals and the strategies you’ll use.

In this video, I’ll share the 6 questions I ask when I’m preparing to create a fundraising plan to fully fund an organization.

If you’d like help getting your fundraising plan together, check out my Fundraising Blueprint virtual workshop. It’s this Friday, June 26, and you’ll get everything you need to draft your own extraordinary fundraising plan.

Want a good deal? Save $20 at checkout by using this code: PLAN20


successful fundraising plan

I hear it all the time.

“We need to increase programs/build a new building/eliminate a waiting list and we’re going to need more money to do it.”

Yes, and the FIRST thing you need is a plan.

When you have a big goal you want to achieve, the best way to assure that you’ll reach it is to figure out how you’ll get there. You must lay out a well thought-out strategy to ensure your success.

You’ll never wing it or figure it out as you go. No shooting from the hip. No ‘make it up as you go.’ Your goal is too important to leave it to chance.

And yet, so many people don’t plan. They jump in too fast and try stuff without putting much thought into it, which is not too smart. They do the same things they’ve always done, then are disappointed when it doesn’t bring new results.

Here’s what happens when you operate that way:

  • You’re always behind. You’re doing things at the last minute like grant proposals and appeal letters, knowing they’re not you’re best work.
  • You’re always looking for ‘new ideas’ for fundraising that works and hoping that the next time you throw spaghetti at the wall, something will stick.
  • You never quite meet your goals, which means you don’t quite raise enough money to meet your budgetary needs.
  • You’re working ALL the time (evenings and weekends).

All that stuff leads to burnout. Yuck.


If you’re one of those people who has something BIG in the works – a huge goal for changing lives – do yourself and those your nonprofit serves a favor: PLAN for your success.

Planning is part art and part science. There are definitely things to include, like who, what, when, where, and how much.

Before you start on those practical pieces, set yourself up for success with these 8 foundations of a successful fundraising plan.


8 Foundations of a Successful Fundraising Plan

1.  Carve out time to do it right. I know you’re busy and it’s tough to find time to do anything, but you can’t afford to mess this up. Set aside enough time to do the evaluation and prep work, goal setting, and calendaring. Don’t try to rush through this. Give yourself enough time to think.

2.  Get it in writing. This is simple – if it’s not in writing, it’s not real. Seriously, it’s not a plan if it’s in your head. When your plan is written down, it’s easier to share with volunteers and Board members, and it’s easier to follow. It’s easier to evaluate your progress with a written plan. And if you’re like me, you can’t remember what you had for lunch yesterday, much less how you thought you were going to raise an additional $25,000 without writing it down.

successful fundraising plan

3.  Evaluate first. Don’t just do what you’ve always done. Make decisions based on numbers and hard data, not what you feel. This means looking at your results from the past couple of years to evaluate what worked and should be repeated versus what flopped and should be dropped.

4.  Set goals first. Start with your program goals to see how much good your nonprofit will do then price it out to see what it will cost. THAT’S how much money you should aim to raise. Don’t do it backwards by just trying to see how much you can raise then figuring out how to spend it. Trust me, you’ll never raise enough money that way and you’ll never change all the lives you really want to change.

5.  Leverage your assets. Always play up your strengths. What have you got to work with? Name recognition? Large donor base? Loyal volunteers? Programs that save lives? Find a way to make the most of them when you’re raising money. If you don’t think your nonprofit has assets like those, look harder. Everyone has something. And then include something in your plan to strengthen and build your assets.

6.  Consider other community activities. Don’t plan in a vacuum. Take into consideration what’s happening in your community that can impact your fundraising, like large employers closing, new businesses coming to town, other nonprofits running large capital campaigns and so forth. These activities will impact your donors and their ability to give to you, so consider them as you plan.

7.  Plan to get out of your office. Don’t get sucked into “introverted fundraising” where you try to do everything from behind your computer. Get face to face with donors and supporters. You can raise some money from your desk, but your best chances of raising BIG bucks are when you spend time in person with your best donors.

8.   Make the numbers work. Double-check your math to make sure the strategies you choose actually add up to the 3 main goals you need to reach:

  • Total dollars you need to raise
  • Number of donors you need to renew
  • Number of new donors you need to acquire

In other words, don’t just say “we want to renew 50% of our current donors.” Note exactly which activities will accomplish that. Will you do it through the mail? Email? Phone calls? An event? Lay it all out in detail and leave nothing to chance.

And remember that everything you do is a strategy to get you to these three goals.
Paying attention to these 8 foundations will help you put together a plan that will definitely raise more money for your worthwhile mission. When you raise more money, you can change more lives. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

If you want more help in creating a plan, join me for my virtual workshop on June 26 called Fundraising Blueprint. I’ll walk you through these 8 foundations and several other steps to help you create a plan for your best year yet. Get all the details at